This is the real sign that spring is here – not the robins nesting in the upturned canoe on the side of the garage, not the hyacinths bursting with color and drooping with the weight of their blossoms, not the fierce pink of the cherry blossoms or the sweet smell of lilac blossoms. No, the surest sign of spring is that the heron is back in our pond.
We have a small pond in our back yard – an arm of the nearby creek, actually – which is inhabited mainly by ducks, who quack and flap and chase each other around during mating season. They’re amusing and silly and we love watching the puffy brown babies when they emerge from their well-camouflaged nesting place, trailing their mother down into the water. There’s a kingfisher who waits on a high branch, swoops down into the water to catch some elusive fish, then rises back to the branch to eat its dinner. There are robins and cardinals and mourning doves, goldfinches and nuthatches and the ever-present crows, cawing and dominating the food supply. All this life inhabits the yard and the pond, making itself known with noise and flutter and flashes of color.
But the heron, the heron is silent, still and totally attentive, watching the calm early morning water. It balances its huge gray body on long spindly legs, the narrow neck undulating as it observes the surface of the pond. When it changes position, its movements are slow and sinuous, creating no waves, calling no notice to itself. It reaches the unseen target, stands immobile for a moment, then jabs its long bill into the water and grabs a small fish. It whips its head up into the air to swallow, and then it’s still again.
Watching the heron before my morning meditation reminds me to be still. If I move too suddenly, even in the upstairs window, it notices the disturbance and takes off, leaving the scene of the disturbance for a quieter spot. Its huge wings spread out and carry it flapping through the trees toward the creek and away.
It’s the heron’s stillness that I admire, the quiet mindfulness, the total presence in the moment. Elusive flashes of grace come with such stillness. I am more like the feisty goldfinches, prone to flap and flutter, create waves and air currents around me, stir the silence with the noise of my mind chattering away at itself. But when I can focus on my breath, still my mind, be in the present moment and allow the unexpected into my life, that’s when joy happens. When I stop trying to be in control, I can relish the beauty of the world and of the people around me. With stillness and mindfulness, grace can happen. I am working on it.